Paralegals are an important part of our legal system working at the forefront of affordable legal assistance both for their employers and the public. They help create equitable access to legal aid. As many clients increasingly seek less costly alternatives for legal services, the demand for good paralegals continues to remain robust.
Some paralegals work for corporations, government agencies, and nonprofits. A paralegal working in these entities offer limited services (as defined by law) under the responsibility of a chosen attorney. Many paralegals, however, work in law offices under a lawyer's direct supervision.
Working in a law office, the paralegal often acts as a legal administrative assistant. They routinely draft documents, file motions, interview clients, and prepare retainers. The type of work preformed will often vary depending on the specialty of the employing law firm.
For instance, many states use attorneys in real estate transactions. A real estate paralegal may routinely fill out documents pertaining to purchase contracts and disclosures. On the other hand, a litigation paralegal may be involved in hours of research for an upcoming court case.
The job of a paralegal requires a variety of skills; some are learned, and some are inherent to the person. For instance, a good paralegal must be highly organized, handle pressure well, and understand the importance of deadlines. They must also know how to relate to people in a variety of situations, be highly trustworthy, discreet, and use good judgment.
A well-trained paralegal will acquire skills through formal education as well as on the job. At school, the student will learn many aspects of the legal system as a whole. They will hone their research skills and learn an entire language of legal terms and definitions. They will also gain a keen understanding of contracts and other legal documents. Each student may also learn about general office administration and office technology.
While strict educational requirements for paralegals are not completely defined as of yet, the legal community, in general, have set standards they look for when hiring a paralegal. These standards include education and training specific to the legal industry, according to the Associations of Legal Assistants and Paralegals.
Many community colleges and online schools and universities offer a certificate or associate's degree program for paralegals. Choosing which route to take often depends on program costs, residency, the student's needs, and future employment goals. Choosing a legal niche to specialize in will also bear on their decision. Unlike attorneys with broad legal knowledge, a paralegal's education will likely focus on a particular part of the law.
Courses for the paralegal program often include topics such as:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the need for paralegals is estimated to rise 18% between 2010 and 2020. The BLS reports that the average salary for an entry- level paralegal job is about $46,000 annually. Top wage earners can make just under $75,000 a year. The career outlook for paralegals remains healthy as law offices seek to cut costs and clients look for less expensive legal assistance.
Landing a job as a paralegal is usually related to supply, demand, and ones training and education. The program a student chooses should have a good reputation. It also helps to show actual hands-on experience volunteering or working in fields directly associated with the legal industry. The greater experience and exposure a paralegal has, the more likely an employing firm will choose them over a lesser-qualified candidate.
Lawyer Career Specialties